Lack of Money Will Halt All New U.S. Civil Jury Trials
Federal court officials Wednesday called a halt effective next week to all new jury trials of civil lawsuits in U.S. district courts because the government has run out of money to pay jurors.
The moratorium, which does not extend to ongoing civil trials, was ordered by the executive committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States, whose chairman is Chief Justice Warren Burger. It will remain in effect until Congress passes a supplemental appropriations bill containing $3.8 million in added funds for the courts, according to Edward Garabedian, assistant director for personnel and financial management of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
Lawyers and court officials predicted the cessation of jury trials would cause delays, inconvenience and confusion in federal district courts.
“It’s going to be a nightmare,” said Washington lawyer Gerald Gilbert, president of the 15,000-member Federal Bar Assn.
Jack Cocks, district executive of the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, agreed. “You put a stick in the works and they stop running and everything gets backed up,” he said.
No Estimate of Number
Cocks said seven trials scheduled to begin next week in Los Angeles federal courts would be delayed by the moratorium. No estimate was immediately available of the number of trials facing postponement nationwide.
The impasse stems from delays by the House and Senate in working out differences between widely varying bills designed to help several federal agencies hard hit by the Gramm-Rudman budget cutting plan.
Because the Reagan Administration has expressed reservations about both the House’s $1.7-billion version of the bill and the Senate’s $4-billion measure, it could be weeks before a compromise bill clears Congress. Even then, Administration officials have said the President may veto the legislation, because of provisions unrelated to court funding.
$30 Per Day
By law, federal jurors are paid $30 per day plus mileage expenses. Increased court activity, combined with cuts in the courts’ jury budget by Congress and the Gramm-Rudman process, left the courts unable to make the mandated payments, Garabedian said.
In an earlier round of budget cutting, the courts stopped paying jurors’ parking fees in March, despite the protests of federal judges.
Molly Munger, chairman of the federal courts committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Assn., said the moratorium will extend delays already clogging the region’s federal courts.
“All that means is when they say ‘Go’ again, there’s just going to be more in the bottleneck,” she said.
Although the administrative office estimates the halting of civil jury trials will save $52,000 a day, Gilbert warned that the moratorium could prove costly in the long run. “They’re going to have a backlog that’s going to be very hard to resolve without a lot of overtime and a lot of hard work,” he said.